Koebke v. Bernardo Heights Country Club
Case in California arguing that businesses that extend benefits to married couples must also extend them on an equal basis to registered domestic partners
The way they tell the story, B. Birgit Koebke and Kendall French just wanted to play golf together at their country club, just as other married spouses could. They’d been together more than a decade and believed they were entitled to the same benefits and privileges that other couples at the club enjoyed. But Bernardo Heights Country Club told them that, because they were an unmarried same-sex couple, French could only play as Koebke’s guest and had to pay up to $70 per round to do so — and they could only play together at the club six times a year. Additionally, unlike those who were married, French was not permitted to inherit Koebke’s interest in the club. Lambda Legal appealed the case first to the California Court of Appeal and then to the California Supreme Court. We won a groundbreaking victory at the California supreme court requiring businesses that extend benefits to married couples to extend them on an equal basis to registered domestic partners.
Enacted in 1959, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act guarantees all Californians equal treatment by businesses. California’s Domestic Partnership Act of 2005 requires equal treatment of registered domestic partners and spouses. Businesses therefore violate the Unruh Act if they discriminate against registered domestic partners by denying them benefits that are extended to married couples.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
This is an enormous victory for registered domestic partners in California. Not only does it apply to athletic club memberships but, whenever domestic partners apply for things like mortgages, loans or insurance policies, the decision requires that they be provided the same advantageous treatment married couples receive.
- May 2001 Koebke and French file lawsuit against Bernardo Heights Country Club.
- July 2002 San Diego Superior Court rules against Koebke and French, concluding that California law allows businesses to treat different-sex couples worse than married couples.
- February 2004 After taking on briefing the appeal, Lambda Legal presents oral argument to the intermediate California Court of Appeals on behalf of Koebke and French.
- March 2004 Appeals court rules that Koebke and French can sue the country club to show that they were treated worse than unmarried heterosexuals, but does not order the club to provide same-sex couples the benefits given spouses.
- July 2004 Lambda Legal files brief with California Supreme Court arguing that same-sex couples in California should have full and equal benefits provided to spouses by country clubs and other businesses.
- May 2005 California Supreme Court hears Lambda Legal’s arguments for equal treatment of same-sex couples by California businesses.
- August 2005 California Supreme Court rules that, if businesses in California provide benefits to married couples, they must extend them on equal terms to same-sex couples who are registered domestic partners.